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The Specifics of American Legislation and Case-law in the Context of Restitution

Developments in U.S. Law, Policy and Practice Concerning Legacy Issues from Nazi-Era Art Looting


Thomas R. Kline

Claims for restitution of artworks alleged to have been looted during the National Socialist era continue and, if anything, have grown in complexity and become more difficult to resolve both in Europe and the United States. There are overwhelming factual and legal differences particularly between the U.S.A. and continental European countries, however, approaches on both sides of the Atlantic lead to legal uncertainty and to unpredictable outcomes. The author identifies specific factual and legal differences, such as the absence of good faith purchaser rules in the United States and more stringent statutes of limitations in Europe. At the same time, European national organizations have been more active in intervening in these cases and in developing special rules, particularly with regard to art held by government entities. American museum associations, which play some of the roles cultural ministries do in Europe, have all but abandoned the field of Nazi-looted art claims. In the end, claimants on the one hand and museums and collectors on the other suffer from a lack of uniformity or consensus on standards and from a shortage of resources for conducting the provenance research that is at the heart of addressing these claims. With no end in sight to Nazi-era art looting claims, these problems still cry out for increased attention and for trans-national solutions.

Thomas R. Kline 1

1 * Thomas R. Kline, Of Counsel; Professorial Lecturer, George Washington University. This article is based on remarks the author presented at the conference “Looted – Recovered. Cultural Goods – the Case of Poland,” Kraków, Poland, 12-14 November 2014.


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